Guest Posts

Guest Post: Be Part of the Solution – Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If your theology pretty much matches up with mine (as outlined in my “Welcome” and “Statement of Faith” tabs in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) and you’d like to contribute a guest post, drop me an e-mail at MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com, and let’s chat about it.

 

Be Part of the Solution:
Preach the Whole Counsel of God

by Andy de Ganahl

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

An honest assessment of what passes for Evangelicalism today is depressing. Individual Christians are vastly ignorant of the Scriptures, churches that teach verse-by-verse are few and far between, and whole denominations are apostatizing left and right. The reason for this massive downgrade is simple: once a departure from Scripture’s authority has commenced, total destruction is imminent.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4

We are even now living in a time when “Christians” desperately desire to have their ears tickled. They want people to tell them what they want to hear and have no stomach for anything outside of that small circle.

We conservatives are quick to point the finger at men like Joel Osteen or Steven Furtick who deny redemption from sin in favor of redemption of personal circumstances. The damning errors of Beth Moore and Rachel Hollis who preach empowerment instead of submission are easy pickings. These are ear-ticklers who have a vast following. But what are we doing about it?

The cancer of heresy is easy to spot once it manifests, but we must address the source of this sickness rather than only treating the symptoms. Generally speaking, we know the problem. We have departed from the Word of God. When you confuse the gospel of grace with personal wealth and individual independence, you’re clearly off the reservation. But where did this start? How far back do we have to go before we find the root of this problem? At what point did we become those who desire to have our ears tickled? It is my opinion that this sickness has infected many more of us than you may suspect.

What Is The Problem?

If you’re like me, you may associate that phrase “wanting to have their ears tickledwith heresy. Clearly what Paul is talking about is a gross misrepresentation of the gospel that might include things like:

  • Denying Christ’s divinity
  • Denying Christ’s humanity
  • Denying the need of repentance
  • Denying human inability in salvation

We could go on and point out the heresies of various cults and false teachers, but Paul’s point is broader than that. All that the phrase means is that people want to be told what they want to hear at the expense of everything else. This does not mean that the thing that people want to hear is necessarily contrary to Scripture.

Paul contrasts ear-tickling with sound doctrine. The Greek literally means healthy/wholesome teaching. It brings the idea of a complete and filling spiritual and theological diet. There is no room in a whole diet for sweets and fluff. But we also need more than only steak, only bread, only broccoli (Praise Him!).

Christians must hold certain convictions with an iron grip. There are many things that a true Christian will never budge on. But that iron grip must hold the totality of God’s Word and not only those convictions that we personally adore more than others.

Some beloved believers, while holding fast their biblical convictions, are ignorant to other important doctrines. Not only are they ignorant, they’re indifferent. They’ve no time for these matters nor do they desire to submit to them. They only wish to hear about the things that are most concerning to them.

We hot-blooded Protestants are eager to rally to the cry of Sola Scriptura! Yet that slogan means that we stand on the totality of Scripture alone, not that we only stand on our favorite passages and doctrines.

I’ve noticed a trend in the various posts that I write. The majority of my writing reflects a careful exposition of Scripture. I write like I preach, verse by verse. But occasionally it is necessary to address issues and topics in light of current events (case in point). Those topics are still presented and studied under the light of Scripture, but they remain topical in nature. It is these kinds of posts that receive the most attention, views, and shares on social media. This trend follows the trajectory of the larger problem. In general, the people of God are more interested in topical discussions that tickle their ears than enduring wholesome teaching. If I am honest, I find this discouraging.

If I were to write something rather controversial like the clear demonic influence of the Democratic National Convention or the apostasy of the Southern Baptist Convention, these sensational topics would likely be well circulated. But these are crumbs. The truths of these propositions are so utterly basic to the Christian faith. To feast on these things is to ensure spiritual starvation. To prefer sensational topics to steady exposition is the very definition of wanting to have our ears tickled.

Please understand me. I am not suggesting that pastors should not address topics that intersect with our surroundings. The sheep need to hear the clear voice of the Shepherd in all things. But it grieves me that there is a genuine lack of appetite for meat while the crumbs are quickly gobbled up. The true child of God loves all of the Word of God and not only the parts he finds to be sensational.

This is a problem of our own making. It has become the standard operating procedure of most churches to completely avoid vast portions of Scripture. We are grieved when we see churches adopt atheistic presuppositions about the origins of the universe and deny God’s literal creation. We marvel and shake our heads when we hear that churches no longer teach homosexuality is sin in both practice and desire. We are shocked when we see mainstream denominations promote blatant violations of 1 Timothy 2:12. But all of these are only the fruit. The root is much deeper.

We have been giving lip service to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture while practically denying that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and exhortation” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

In plain language, the problem is a departure from the totality of Scripture.

What Is The Solution?

The solution is as simple as the problem. We must cling to and submit under the totality of Scripture. But what does that simple solution look like?

As a people, we must soundly reject the false understanding of doctrinal triage. We cannot survive another decade if we continue to treat the church like a 1950’s dinner party where are certain topics are off limits. There is simply no such thing as secondary or tertiary doctrines that pale in significance or even lapse into insignificance when placed alongside “primarydoctrines. The biblical authors never divide the Word of God into degrees of significance and neither should we. The solution to biblical fidelity will never be found in arbitrary divisions of biblical teaching. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

As a church, our pulpits must proclaim the full counsel of God and not only the portions that are palatable. The teaching must be only the Word and must consist of the totality of the Word. Careful verse-by-verse exposition takes a very, very, very long time. It took John MacArthur almost 50 years to preach through the New Testament. But there are still 39 books in the Old Testament that need to be taught. Precise verse-by-verse exposition is the only way to preach. But that means the church must provide more than only the pulpit ministry. The people need the whole story. Their diet must contain the totality of God’s bounty. The solution to biblical fidelity requires the totality of the Bible to be taught. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

As an individual, you must feast upon the totality of Scripture on a daily basis. There are many Bible reading programs out there. I have my opinion as to how to make your daily Bible reading and communion with God most profitable, but at the end of the day you must be familiar with your ENTIRE Bible. When is the last time you read through Leviticus, or Habakkuk, or Philemon, or (heaven forbid) Revelation? If you own a Bible and possess the ability to read, there is no excuse to be biblically malnourished. This is akin to starving do death with a full pantry. The solution to biblical fidelity requires that we are familiar with our Bibles. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.

Helpful Suggestions

Find a church: The individual Christian is never truly an individual but a member of a larger body. If you find yourself floating from church to church, or just not going to church, then repent of your sin and attach yourself to a faithful body. But be wise to what you attach yourself. There is only one thing that should look for: does this church teach the Bible? Sequential exposition is not just an effective way to preach, it is the only way to preach. The style of music, the quality of the sound system, and the presence (or lack of) children’s church does not amount to a hill of beans. Does the pastor open up his Bible, read it, explain it, and then exhort obedience to it? Find a church that does this, attach yourself to her, bless her and be blessed by her.

Redeem the time: There are portions of our day when our minds a free to wander. Whether we are driving to work, getting in a work out at the gym, or doing some mindless chore around the house. These are fantastic opportunities to engage the mind as well as the hands. We live in a day when we have countless resources full of sound teaching at our fingertips. Many faithful ministries have apps free to download on your phone (Search for Grace to You and S.L.J Institutes in the app store). Stop wasting your time with pointless and Godless music or simply allowing your mind to wander and feast upon the Word of God.

Be selective: Make a conscious decision between what’s good and what’s best. There are many teaching resources out there that seek to teach biblical truth, but are not necessarily teaching the Bible. Is it good to learn about God’s good creation and the scientific discoveries that assume Genesis 1 is true? Is it good to listen to men discussing current events from a biblical worldview? Absolutely. But what is best is to feast on the Word itself. Why waste your time listing about the Bible when you can hear the Bible being taught?

Conclusion

Apostasy and heresy are running rampant in our land and we are partly to blame. We have the audacity to be shocked at the fruit of unbelief when the root of biblical infidelity has been growing for decades. What did Paul command Timothy before he warned him? Preach the Word! (2 Timothy 4:1-2)

He doesn’t say, preach the primary” doctrines, or when it’s convenient. Preach the whole counsel of God and preach it all the time. There’s no room here for private convictions held within small circles. He says reprove (give correction), rebuke (call out sin), exhort (call for obedience) with great patience (people need to hear it over and over again) and instruction (TEACH IT!).

The problem with the church today is that we have neglected the totality of Scripture. As a result we must be chained to, immersed in, and fully submitted under all of Scripture.

This is our battle cry. This is what Sola Scriptura means. This is the path of fidelity. This is the solution to the problem. But if we’re not part of this solution, then we’re part of the problem.


Andy de Ganahl is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Burley Idaho. Andy’s burning desire is for the people of God to know the Word of God so that they can more accurately worship the God of the Word. You can check out If You’re Not Part of the Solution, Then You’re Part of the Problem (from which this guest post was excerpted), and other articles by Andy, at The Pastor’s Brief

Entertainment, Movies, Sanctification

Throwback Thursday ~ Don’t Get Your Theology from the Movies

I recently received the kindest e-mail from a sweet lady at a movie subscription service – sort of a “family-friendly” version of Netflix – asking me to write an article pointing my readers to the movie subscription service (hereafter: “MSS”) as a resource for whatever issue I was addressing in the article:

I am hoping to hear your advice on some ways to relay valuable lessons to others in a post on your page. Maybe you have used a book or a movie to help someone better understand how to deal with bullying. Or maybe you have used parables from the Bible to demonstrate how to deal with a tough situation. We would love our movies to be a resource for your readers to utilize as a tool, since we have many relevant Christian movies and shows.”

This is a brilliant and creative marketing/publicity strategy, and I really admire whoever it was at the MSS who came up with and implemented this idea. It’s grassroots, it reaches their target audience, they get to harness the creativity and energy of the bloggers they contact, and it’s free. Very smart.

Nice people, smart marketing, a variety of attractive products, the desire to help others, a company built on wholesome morality- what’s not to endorse, right? And if they were selling hand cream or light bulbs or waffle irons, I’d agree.

The thing is, when you sell something, that product is supposed to correctly fill a need your potential customers have. You sell hand cream to people with dry hands, light bulbs to people wondering why they’re sitting around in the dark, and waffle irons to people who want to enjoy breakfast in their jammies rather than driving across town to IHOP.

But this MSS is not selling you the right tool for your problem. Though I’m sure they have the noblest of intentions, they’re attempting to sell you a waffle iron to rake your yard with: movies as theology.

I like movies. I watch them all the time with my family (at home- have you seen the price of a movie ticket lately?!?!). But movies are for leisure time fun and entertainment, not for proper instruction on how to live a godly life or the way to solve personal problems, and certainly not for what to believe about God, as we’ve recently seen with The Shack debacle. When Christians have issues, questions, and problems, we don’t go to the movies, we go to the Bible.

God’s word is the primary source document for Christians. It is the authority that governs our thoughts, words, and deeds. It is the sufficient answer to any question we might have about life and godliness. Above any other advice, instruction, help, or input, we need the Bible, and we can rest assured that its counsel is always right and trustworthy since its words come straight from the lips of God.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s try it the MSS’s way. Let’s say you do have the problem of being bullied. And let’s say this MSS has a good movie about a character in similar life circumstances to yours who overcomes being bullied. So you watch it, hoping to get some advice on how to handle your own problem. You’re a Christian, so, by definition, you want to address the situation without sinning, in a way that pleases God, and, hopefully, in a way that is conducive to sharing the gospel with the bully.

How do you know whether or not the character in the movie overcame her bullying problem in a godly way? That’s right- you have to open your Bible, study it, and compare what she did in the movie with rightly handled, in context Scripture. So why not just go straight to the Source and spend the hour and a half you invested in the movie studying Scripture instead?

Another issue with watching movies to learn how to solve your problems or teach you how to live rightly is that doing so subtly trains you in poor hermeneutics. It trains you to follow the example of a character who is just as broken, sinful, and unwise as you are instead of looking directly to the perfect, holy, infallible instruction of God Himself. Which is often the way people incorrectly read the Bible.

As I’ve previously mentioned, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Like a movie, descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus. All of which is the same reason we should not be watching movies – even “Christian” movies – as a resource for godly living.

“But,” the kind MSS lady would probably reassure me, “our MSS also has non-fiction videos of pastors and Bible teachers that could be helpful.” And indeed they do. There are a handful of documentaries on missionaries, some of the Reformers, current moral and societal issues, and Bible teaching that look like they could be solid. The problem is, they’re mixed in with the likes of Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, Henri Nouwen, Greg Laurie, a plethora of Catholic leaders, and even those who don’t claim to be Christians like Betty White, Frank Sinatra, and Liberace. The few videos with good teaching are combined with many that teach worldly ideas, signs and wonders, mysticism, Bible “codes” and “secrets,” false prophecy, faulty eschatology, and other false doctrine.

It’s a great example of why God tells Christians we’re not to receive false teachers nor to partner with them, as, sadly, this MSS has chosen to do. Mixing biblical truth with false teaching confuses people. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

When a little bit of truth is mixed in with the false, how are we to know which is which? We have to do exactly what the Bereans did with Paul- examine the teachings against Scripture, accept what matches up and reject what doesn’t. Again, why spend the time and confusion searching for, hoping you’ve found, and watching a video you’re not sure will teach you biblical truth when you could simply pick up your Bible, study it, and confidently believe what God says about the issue instead?

There are some good, clean movies on this MSS that would make for an enjoyable evening of family fun, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But for instruction in holy living and resolving the dilemmas of life in a godly way, we need to use the right tool for the job: the Bible.

Rake your yard with a rake, not a waffle iron.

 

Entertainment, Movies, Sanctification

Don’t Get Your Theology from the Movies

I recently received the kindest e-mail from a sweet lady at a movie subscription service – sort of a “family-friendly” version of Netflix – asking me to write an article pointing my readers to the movie subscription service (hereafter: “MSS”) as a resource for whatever issue I was addressing in the article:

I am hoping to hear your advice on some ways to relay valuable lessons to others in a post on your page. Maybe you have used a book or a movie to help someone better understand how to deal with bullying. Or maybe you have used parables from the Bible to demonstrate how to deal with a tough situation. We would love our movies to be a resource for your readers to utilize as a tool, since we have many relevant Christian movies and shows.”

This is a brilliant and creative marketing/publicity strategy, and I really admire whoever it was at the MSS who came up with and implemented this idea. It’s grassroots, it reaches their target audience, they get to harness the creativity and energy of the bloggers they contact, and it’s free. Very smart.

Nice people, smart marketing, a variety of attractive products, the desire to help others, a company built on wholesome morality- what’s not to endorse, right? And if they were selling hand cream or light bulbs or waffle irons, I’d agree.

The thing is, when you sell something, that product is supposed to correctly fill a need your potential customers have. You sell hand cream to people with dry hands, light bulbs to people wondering why they’re sitting around in the dark, and waffle irons to people who want to enjoy breakfast in their jammies rather than driving across town to IHOP.

But this MSS is not selling you the right tool for your problem. Though I’m sure they have the noblest of intentions, they’re attempting to sell you a waffle iron to rake your yard with: movies as theology.

I like movies. I watch them all the time with my family (at home- have you seen the price of a movie ticket lately?!?!). But movies are for leisure time fun and entertainment, not for proper instruction on how to live a godly life or the way to solve personal problems, and certainly not for what to believe about God, as we’ve recently seen with The Shack debacle. When Christians have issues, questions, and problems, we don’t go to the movies, we go to the Bible.

God’s word is the primary source document for Christians. It is the authority that governs our thoughts, words, and deeds. It is the sufficient answer to any question we might have about life and godliness. Above any other advice, instruction, help, or input, we need the Bible, and we can rest assured that its counsel is always right and trustworthy since its words come straight from the lips of God.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s try it the MSS’s way. Let’s say you do have the problem of being bullied. And let’s say this MSS has a good movie about a character in similar life circumstances to yours who overcomes being bullied. So you watch it, hoping to get some advice on how to handle your own problem. You’re a Christian, so, by definition, you want to address the situation without sinning, in a way that pleases God, and, hopefully, in a way that is conducive to sharing the gospel with the bully.

How do you know whether or not the character in the movie overcame her bullying problem in a godly way? That’s right- you have to open your Bible, study it, and compare what she did in the movie with rightly handled, in context Scripture. So why not just go straight to the Source and spend the hour and a half you invested in the movie studying Scripture instead?

Another issue with watching movies to learn how to solve your problems or teach you how to live rightly is that doing so subtly trains you in poor hermeneutics. It trains you to follow the example of a character who is just as broken, sinful, and unwise as you are instead of looking directly to the perfect, holy, infallible instruction of God Himself. Which is often the way people incorrectly read the Bible.

As I’ve previously mentioned, there are two main types of Scripture: descriptive and prescriptive. Like a movie, descriptive passages describe something that happened: Noah built an ark. Esther became queen. Paul got shipwrecked. These passages simply tell us what happened to somebody. Prescriptive passages are commands or statements to obey. Don’t lie. Share the gospel. Forgive others.

If we wanted to know how to have a godly marriage, for example, we would look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7, and Exodus 20:14,17. These are all passages that clearly tell us what to do and what not to do in order to have a godly marriage.

What we would not do is look at David’s and Solomon’s lives and conclude that polygamy is God’s design for marriage. We would not read about Hosea and assume that God wants Christian men to marry prostitutes. We would not read the story of the woman at the well and think that being married five times and then shacking up with number six is OK with Jesus. All of which is the same reason we should not be watching movies – even “Christian” movies – as a resource for godly living.

“But,” the kind MSS lady would probably reassure me, “our MSS also has non-fiction videos of pastors and Bible teachers that could be helpful.” And indeed they do. There are a handful of documentaries on missionaries, some of the Reformers, current moral and societal issues, and Bible teaching that look like they could be solid. The problem is, they’re mixed in with the likes of Joyce Meyer, John Hagee, Henri Nouwen, Greg Laurie, a plethora of Catholic leaders, and even those who don’t claim to be Christians like Betty White, Frank Sinatra, and Liberace. The few videos with good teaching are combined with many that teach worldly ideas, signs and wonders, mysticism, Bible “codes” and “secrets,” false prophecy, faulty eschatology, and other false doctrine.

It’s a great example of why God tells Christians we’re not to receive false teachers nor to partner with them, as, sadly, this MSS has chosen to do. Mixing biblical truth with false teaching confuses people. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

When a little bit of truth is mixed in with the false, how are we to know which is which? We have to do exactly what the Bereans did with Paul- examine the teachings against Scripture, accept what matches up and reject what doesn’t. Again, why spend the time and confusion searching for, hoping you’ve found, and watching a video you’re not sure will teach you biblical truth when you could simply pick up your Bible, study it, and confidently believe what God says about the issue instead?

There are some good, clean movies on this MSS that would make for an enjoyable evening of family fun, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But for instruction in holy living and resolving the dilemmas of life in a godly way, we need to use the right tool for the job: the Bible.

Rake your yard with a rake, not a waffle iron.

 

Bible Study

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

I’m working on a project I’ve got to get done this week (prayer appreciated!), so I’ll be re-running a few favorite articles from the archives in lieu of new content.

I sincerely apologize to those who were waiting for the last lesson of The Ten this week. Couldn’t be helped. We’ll have to do it next week. I hope you’ll enjoy this article from April 22, 2016 on studying your Bible.

plain vanilla

Baskin Robbins is one of my favorite places to get ice cream. Not only is their ice cream good, but they boast a plethora of flavors to choose from. I love to start at one end of the counter and work my way through all their offerings, getting a little “taste spoon” here and there if a particular flavor piques my interest.

Flavor_Enlarged_Peanutbutter'nChocolate2
Photo courtesy of BaskinRobbins.com.

Having a myriad of options is great when it comes to ice cream, but when it comes to studying the Bible, the tsunami of materials, methods, and other choices out there can be overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I know if a certain Bible study book or teacher is doctrinally sound? Is the study method I’m using in line with good hermeneutics?

It can be enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and head for your local Thirty One Flavors to drown your sorrows in Peanut Butter ‘N Chocolate.

Sometimes it can help to get back to plain old, simple, vanilla Bible study. I’ve been saying for a while now that Christian women should, for the most part, put all the “canned” Bible study books, workbooks, and DVDs aside and simply pick up their Bibles and study them in a systematic way. After all, up until somewhere near the latter half of the 20th century, that’s generally how people studied the Bible. And it worked. People grew in their faith to godly maturity just fine. So, why can’t it work today?

It can. It does. It will.

Unfortunately, the blessing of lots of options, methods, resources, and information, and the marketing of that blessing by celebrity Christians and Christian retailing, has bred a generation of Christian women who are fearful that they aren’t as smart or as capable of reading and understanding God’s word as all the “experts” out there. They look at the simplicity of picking up their Bibles and studying them like calves looking worriedly at a new gate.

“What does that mean?”

“How do I do that?”

“I’m scared I’ll get it wrong!”

It absolutely breaks my heart to hear this angst from women who, I’m certain, genuinely want to study God’s word correctly so that they can know Him better and grow in their faith. And it makes me livid at the churches who haven’t trained them properly, the plantation-style women’s “Bible study” marketing that has kept them ignorant and dependent slaves to Christian retailers, and whatever other forces have conspired to keep these precious ladies away from the pure milk of the word.

So let’s reboot, get back to basics, and get as many women digging into the Word as possible.

First, it’s important to start out with a biblical perspective:

1. God is kind, and He loves you.

Yeah, I know, that’s pretty basic. But it’s worth bringing to the forefront for this discussion. This is a God who loves you and wants you to know Him. He has revealed Himself to you through creation, through Christ, and through His written word. He has indwelt you as a believer with the Holy Spirit to help you understand Scripture. He has told you that you can ask for wisdom and promises to provide it. In His kindness God has bent over backwards to provide you with ways to know Him. He is not some mean ogre sitting up there just waiting for you to get something wrong so He can chastise you. He wants you to understand His word.

2. The Perspicuity of Scripture

There’s this really great, comforting, reassuring doctrine called the perspicuity of Scripture. The gist of it is that Scripture is, for the most part, clear and understandable, especially for believers, because of the aforementioned indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But even lost people tend to understand a lot of what Scripture says (that’s why you hear so many of them arguing against it – they couldn’t do that if they didn’t at least partially understand it).

So, by and large, if you’re reading the Bible in an orderly way you should be able to understand it fairly well. You don’t have to have a seminary degree or be an “expert.” There are dirt farmers and country preachers out there who have a better grasp of Scripture than some celebrity pastors in multi-million dollar churches with thousands of congregants, and a string of seminary degrees behind their names.

OK, now that we have a biblical perspective on studying the Bible, how do we do it in a systematic or orderly way?

3. Pray

Don’t see this as childish or unimportant and skip it. Start your Bible study time by asking God to help you understand His word, to learn what He wants you to learn from it, and to obey its instruction. Even if you’re pretty well versed in the Scriptures, praying like this before opening God’s word will remind you of its holiness and your proper place of humility and submission to it.

bible-1089968_12804. Read the Bible the way you would any other book.

When you pick up a novel, do you read one sentence out of the middle of chapter 4, followed, the next day, by a paragraph from chapter 37, and, the next day, a couple of lines from chapter 1? Of course not. You wouldn’t know what was going on and what the characters meant by what they were saying. If you wouldn’t read something as inconsequential as a novel this way, why would you read the Bible in such a haphazard manner? Yet this is precisely the way people often approach daily Bible study.

My pastor said something awesome about this in his sermon the other day:

The Bible isn’t Google for self-help.

And he’s so right. We don’t just parachute in to a random passage, hoping to glean a nugget of truth. Pick a book of the Bible (maybe Genesis or one of the gospels if you’re new to all this), start at the beginning, and read a little each day until you reach the end. It’s really that simple.

5. Context, context, context

It’s important to read and understand Scripture in its context: how a verse fits with the verses immediately surrounding it, within its chapter, within its book, and within the overarching narrative of the Bible. This is really the biggest key to comprehending Scripture. Fortunately, the main way to do this is by reading the Bible in an orderly way (see #4- You did already read #4, right?)

Another invaluable practice is to make use of the cross-references and footnotes in your Bible. Cross-references will help you get a better idea of how the passage you’re reading fits together with other, related passages. Footnotes are there to add a touch of clarity to particular words and passages.

6. Get a plan, Fran.

If structure helps you, choose a good Bible reading plan. For the beginner, start off with one of the shorter plans so you won’t get overwhelmed. When you’re ready, I highly recommend the chronological plan. It is extremely helpful for learning the big picture of Scripture.

If you decide to choose a reading plan, though, hold its schedule loosely and don’t be beholden to its time frame. Work through the readings at your own pace. Take the time to let the Scriptures sink in and spend as long as you need to on any given section. God doesn’t give gold stars for finishing the Bible in a year.

7. Understand the background and setting.

There are some passages in Scripture that are a little more difficult to understand if you don’t know the customs of the time or what was going on historically and politically. In these cases a good study Bible, commentary, and other resources can be beneficial. I’ve touched on the specifics of some of these resources here. Many of these helpful materials can be found on-line for free.

8. Take notes on the text.

Hmm…an orderly method of reading…footnotes…extra resources…taking notes…this is starting to sound like…well…studying! Yep, that’s the idea. Isn’t it interesting that we often take a more serious and scholarly approach to studying for a class or a test than we do to studying our Bibles?

If you were a better student than I was in high school and college, you probably took notes on your text books as you read them. You wrote down things you wanted to remember, things that seemed important, things you didn’t understand and wanted to work on more later, things that were especially meaningful, even questions that occurred to you. Those are all good things to write down as you study your Bible, as well.

presenter-1206345_12809. Listen to good preaching.

As a Christian, you should already be doing this at least weekly at the church you’re a member of. But try to sneak in some extra listening – to your own pastor or another doctrinally sound pastor – as often as you can during the week. Listening to someone rightly handle and explain God’s word helps you to understand it and trains you to rightly handle it yourself as you study.

I once read that children who read a lot are better spellers. Not because they study spelling more, but because they’re exposed to more words and have the correct spelling of words constantly in front of their eyes. They sort of soak up good spelling by osmosis, and when it’s time for the spelling test, they simply write down what they’ve absorbed. Listening to good, expository preaching can have the same kind of helpful impact on your Bible study skills.

10. Practice makes perfect.

Studying the Bible is just like any other skill. You’ll probably fumble around a good bit when you’re first getting started, but if you stick to it, you’ll find that it gets easier and you get better at it as time goes by. Don’t be afraid to start. Jump right in there and try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

 

Ladies, simply picking up the Bible and studying it each day is such a joy. I have been doing it for years, and I love it. The excitement of “digging for buried treasure” in God’s word and uncovering the truths of Scripture for myself has been far more meaningful to me and has grown me so much more than any workbook or curriculum I’ve ever used. I hope you’ll put aside your book studies and devotionals, and give it a try yourself!

Bible Study

10 Simple Steps to Plain Vanilla Bible Study

plain vanilla

Baskin Robbins is one of my favorite places to get ice cream. Not only is their ice cream good, but they boast a plethora of flavors to choose from. I love to start at one end of the counter and work my way through all their offerings, getting a little “taste spoon” here and there if a particular flavor piques my interest.

Flavor_Enlarged_Peanutbutter'nChocolate2
Photo courtesy of BaskinRobbins.com.

Having a myriad of options is great when it comes to ice cream, but when it comes to studying the Bible, the tsunami of materials, methods, and other choices out there can be overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I know if a certain Bible study book or teacher is doctrinally sound? Is the study method I’m using in line with good hermeneutics?

It can be enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and head for your local Thirty One Flavors to drown your sorrows in Peanut Butter ‘N Chocolate.

Sometimes it can help to get back to plain old, simple, vanilla Bible study. I’ve been saying for a while now that Christian women should, for the most part, put all the “canned” Bible study books, workbooks, and DVDs aside and simply pick up their Bibles and study them in a systematic way. After all, up until somewhere near the latter half of the 20th century, that’s generally how people studied the Bible. And it worked. People grew in their faith to godly maturity just fine. So, why can’t it work today?

It can. It does. It will.

Unfortunately, the blessing of lots of options, methods, resources, and information, and the marketing of that blessing by celebrity Christians and Christian retailing, has bred a generation of Christian women who are fearful that they aren’t as smart or as capable of reading and understanding God’s word as all the “experts” out there. They look at the simplicity of picking up their Bibles and studying them like calves looking worriedly at a new gate.

“What does that mean?”

“How do I do that?”

“I’m scared I’ll get it wrong!”

It absolutely breaks my heart to hear this angst from women who, I’m certain, genuinely want to study God’s word correctly so that they can know Him better and grow in their faith. And it makes me livid at the churches who haven’t trained them properly, the plantation-style women’s “Bible study” marketing that has kept them ignorant and dependent slaves to Christian retailers, and whatever other forces have conspired to keep these precious ladies away from the pure milk of the word.

So let’s reboot, get back to basics, and get as many women digging into the Word as possible.

First, it’s important to start out with a biblical perspective:

1. God is kind, and He loves you.

Yeah, I know, that’s pretty basic. But it’s worth bringing to the forefront for this discussion. This is a God who loves you and wants you to know Him. He has revealed Himself to you through creation, through Christ, and through His written word. He has indwelt you as a believer with the Holy Spirit to help you understand Scripture. He has told you that you can ask for wisdom and promises to provide it. In His kindness God has bent over backwards to provide you with ways to know Him. He is not some mean ogre sitting up there just waiting for you to get something wrong so He can chastise you. He wants you to understand His word.

2. The Perspicuity of Scripture

There’s this really great, comforting, reassuring doctrine called the perspicuity of Scripture. The gist of it is that Scripture is, for the most part, clear and understandable, especially for believers, because of the aforementioned indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But even lost people tend to understand a lot of what Scripture says (that’s why you hear so many of them arguing against it – they couldn’t do that if they didn’t at least partially understand it).

So, by and large, if you’re reading the Bible in an orderly way you should be able to understand it fairly well. You don’t have to have a seminary degree or be an “expert.” There are dirt farmers and country preachers out there who have a better grasp of Scripture than some celebrity pastors in multi-million dollar churches with thousands of congregants, and a string of seminary degrees behind their names.

OK, now that we have a biblical perspective on studying the Bible, how do we do it in a systematic or orderly way?

3. Pray

Don’t see this as childish or unimportant and skip it. Start your Bible study time by asking God to help you understand His word, to learn what He wants you to learn from it, and to obey its instruction. Even if you’re pretty well versed in the Scriptures, praying like this before opening God’s word will remind you of its holiness and your proper place of humility and submission to it.

bible-1089968_12804. Read the Bible the way you would any other book.

When you pick up a novel, do you read one sentence out of the middle of chapter 4, followed, the next day, by a paragraph from chapter 37, and, the next day, a couple of lines from chapter 1? Of course not. You wouldn’t know what was going on and what the characters meant by what they were saying. If you wouldn’t read something as inconsequential as a novel this way, why would you read the Bible in such a haphazard manner? Yet this is precisely the way people often approach daily Bible study.

My pastor said something awesome about this in his sermon the other day:

The Bible isn’t Google for self-help.

And he’s so right. We don’t just parachute in to a random passage, hoping to glean a nugget of truth. Pick a book of the Bible (maybe Genesis or one of the gospels if you’re new to all this), start at the beginning, and read a little each day until you reach the end. It’s really that simple.

5. Context, context, context

It’s important to read and understand Scripture in its context: how a verse fits with the verses immediately surrounding it, within its chapter, within its book, and within the overarching narrative of the Bible. This is really the biggest key to comprehending Scripture. Fortunately, the main way to do this is by reading the Bible in an orderly way (see #4- You did already read #4, right?)

Another invaluable practice is to make use of the cross-references and footnotes in your Bible. Cross-references will help you get a better idea of how the passage you’re reading fits together with other, related passages. Footnotes are there to add a touch of clarity to particular words and passages.

6. Get a plan, Fran.

If structure helps you, choose a good Bible reading plan. For the beginner, start off with one of the shorter plans so you won’t get overwhelmed. When you’re ready, I highly recommend the chronological plan. It is extremely helpful for learning the big picture of Scripture.

If you decide to choose a reading plan, though, hold its schedule loosely and don’t be beholden to its time frame. Work through the readings at your own pace. Take the time to let the Scriptures sink in and spend as long as you need to on any given section. God doesn’t give gold stars for finishing the Bible in a year.

7. Understand the background and setting.

There are some passages in Scripture that are a little more difficult to understand if you don’t know the customs of the time or what was going on historically and politically. In these cases a good study Bible, commentary, and other resources can be beneficial. I’ve touched on the specifics of some of these resources here. Many of these helpful materials can be found on-line for free.

8. Take notes on the text.

Hmm…an orderly method of reading…footnotes…extra resources…taking notes…this is starting to sound like…well…studying! Yep, that’s the idea. Isn’t it interesting that we often take a more serious and scholarly approach to studying for a class or a test than we do to studying our Bibles?

If you were a better student than I was in high school and college, you probably took notes on your text books as you read them. You wrote down things you wanted to remember, things that seemed important, things you didn’t understand and wanted to work on more later, things that were especially meaningful, even questions that occurred to you. Those are all good things to write down as you study your Bible, as well.

presenter-1206345_12809. Listen to good preaching.

As a Christian, you should already be doing this at least weekly at the church you’re a member of. But try to sneak in some extra listening – to your own pastor or another doctrinally sound pastor – as often as you can during the week. Listening to someone rightly handle and explain God’s word helps you to understand it and trains you to rightly handle it yourself as you study.

I once read that children who read a lot are better spellers. Not because they study spelling more, but because they’re exposed to more words and have the correct spelling of words constantly in front of their eyes. They sort of soak up good spelling by osmosis, and when it’s time for the spelling test, they simply write down what they’ve absorbed. Listening to good, expository preaching can have the same kind of helpful impact on your Bible study skills.

10. Practice makes perfect.

Studying the Bible is just like any other skill. You’ll probably fumble around a good bit when you’re first getting started, but if you stick to it, you’ll find that it gets easier and you get better at it as time goes by. Don’t be afraid to start. Jump right in there and try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

 

Ladies, simply picking up the Bible and studying it each day is such a joy. I have been doing it for years, and I love it. The excitement of “digging for buried treasure” in God’s word and uncovering the truths of Scripture for myself has been far more meaningful to me and has grown me so much more than any workbook or curriculum I’ve ever used. I hope you’ll put aside your book studies and devotionals, and give it a try yourself!